On May 27, 1970, I brought Martin home for the very first time. As his father drove, I carried my precious bundle in my arms, excited and happy – and a little nervous – to begin my career as his mom.

On January 21, 2021, I brought Martin home for the very last time. As his baby brother drove, I carried my precious boy’s ashes in my lap, sad and tearful, missing him, but still his mom, still loving him, knowing that there’s little left for me to do.


December 30-31, 2020

After Martin’s bad fall on December 30th, I was afraid for him to be by himself, afraid that he’d call for me in the night and I wouldn’t hear him. I slept directly across the hall in the family room so I could get to him quickly if he needed me. He was on full time oxygen at this point, but he was prone to take it off if it became bothersome. I slept poorly for about 4 hours. When I got up, he was groaning with every exhale, so I called hospice for direction. We increased his pain medication, and I called Ben to let him know that I needed him there. He arrived, followed soon after by Briana and the kids.

Martin on New Year’s Eve, drawn by his brother, Ben.

We also called Jason to let him know that Martin was not going to be with us much longer. Soon after, Jason emailed his flight itinerary to me, and I was relieved and thankful that he’d join us at Marty’s bedside on New Year’s Day. I prayed he wouldn’t be too late.

Briana and the children spent the day cleaning, doing laundry, and preparing meals for us. It was such a comfort to have all of them there, to know that I could stay by Martin’s side and not worry if something was needed – that loving, willing hands would take care of it all.

After dinner, Briana and the kids left to prepare for a New Year’s Eve observance with close friends, and a couple of hours later, I sent Ben on his way to be with his wife and children as we all said goodbye to 2020. I had a strong feeling that Martin wouldn’t leave me until the New Year. Ever since he had joined the Navy in 1989, he had called me from wherever he was in the world – both at midnight in his time zone and again at midnight in mine – to welcome the New Year. He would hold on, I was certain. I tuned his television to CNN and, as the ball dropped in Times Square, I welcomed the East Coast New Year with my boy, missing his ability to share it with me.

Wanting to be closer, but fearful that he’d fall on me if he tried to get up, I made a bed of sofa cushions and slept on the floor outside his room. I was close enough to respond immediately if he needed me, but at a safe enough distance that he wouldn’t fall on me if he tried to get out of bed.By that time, it was a new year on the West Coast as well, and I was thankful to know he had survived the most awful year I’ve ever known.

January 1, 2021

I knew upon waking that he wasn’t going to last much longer. Jason’s flight from Illinois was delayed due to weather, and all I could do was pray that he’d arrive in time. Ben and his family arrived later that morning, and we once again took up our vigil, interrupted only by text updates on Jason’s travel progress.

The hospice nurse arrived in the afternoon to assess him. When we discovered that he hadn’t voided his bladder since the previous day, she began to probe his abdomen. With a heartbreaking moan of pain, Martin rose to almost a sitting position and a few minutes later, we discovered that he had emptied his bladder. Although it was obvious it hurt him when the nurse probed, he seemed to relax more in his sleep. Briana, who had been cleaning, cooking, and making sure we all knew when food was ready, left those duties to join the nurse and me to help with personal care for him. He seemed much more comfortable, though his breathing was still labored despite the oxygen. Via telephone, hospice continued to coach me on administering his pain medication and clearing his mouth of secretions.

Finally, Jason’s flight arrived and Ben left to pick him up. He stopped at Ben’s to shower prior to coming to the house, in case he had any COVID contamination from his flight. I was so thankful to have all three of my boys together, especially knowing that it was for the last time.

Jason had brought his old Navy uniform, since it was our plan to bathe and dress Martin following his death and before the funeral home arrived. I appreciated Jason’s thoughtfulness; he knew what it would mean to his brother to once again, and for the final time, wear the uniform of the Navy that he had loved.

Not wanting to sleep on the floor again, but wanting to be close to him, I moved a small recliner into his room – possibly the most uncomfortable recliner I’ve ever tried to sleep in! Nevertheless, I managed to sleep for a couple of hours, holding his hand throughout the night.

January 2, 2021

I can’t really say I woke up because I hadn’t really slept, but the morning found Martin’s condition unchanged. I must have made coffee at some point, and I think I took a shower and changed my clothes. I know I’d been wearing the same clothes for a couple of days.

The house felt full of love with Jason, Ben, Briana, Addison, and Drew there to wait and watch with me. We had another visit from the hospice nurse to evaluate his condition, reaffirm that I was giving his meds properly, and to tell us what would likely happen as he approached death.

I’m sure we ate, drank, talked, and prayed, but so much is a blur to me. Late in the afternoon, I told Jason and Ben that we needed to make a list of who would need to be called – his dad and other family members and friends, and who would call each one. We decided to sit at his bedside as we made our lists, and we pulled our chairs to his bedside – Jason on one side of me and Ben on the other. As we talked and planned, Martin suddenly opened his eyes – the first time in two days – and looked at each of us in turn. It was obvious that he saw us, that he knew we were there, that he knew he was loved. He then closed his eyes and took four more breaths before going into eternity and becoming a beloved memory.

After calling hospice, I called my priest who said she would come right away. We made our other calls, and by the time Mother Esme arrived to anoint him and administer last rites, we had bathed and dressed Martin. We took turns sitting with him until the funeral home arrived and we could begin to wrap our minds around the hole that he left in our lives.


This has been painful to write, but necessary for me as I process a month – and the rest of my life – without my oldest child. I’m grateful to all of you who have traveled this journey through my writing, and appreciate your expressions of love and kindness.

When a loved one dies, we often make the mistake of whitewashing their lives and elevating them to some kind of sainthood. Martin was no saint; there’s not a person in this family who would ever attempt to paint him as one, nor would he want to be remembered that way. He was a human being. He made mistakes. He fought and argued with me, his dad, his brothers – but we all love him and we know he loved us. We remember him as he was. The most important thing is that he be remembered. He leaves behind no children, so it’s up to us who knew him in life to carry his memory forward, to tell people that Martin Jacinto Cerezo lived, that once he touched our lives and our hearts.


Almost full circle

Tonight, after a very hard day that included two falls – one of which was a full-force face plant resulting in a possible broken nose – I am sitting by the bedside of my boy.

As he sleeps, I watch for each breath, just as I did long years ago when he was a baby. Tonight, when he said he was hungry, I cut up his food and fed it to him, just as I did when he was a baby. When I asked him to take “one more bite,” the face he made took me back 50 years. And, as I put the straw to his lips for a drink, he bit down on it and didn’t understand when I told him to suck through it. Just as he did when he was first learning how straws work, when he was a baby.

Despite my age, despite having seen the death of people I love, I’m struck anew by how leaving this earthly life really is a reversal of how we grow into it in our beginnings.

I pray that his new life, which seems so imminent now, is as big an adventure for him as this one has been. But I also pray that whatever there is on the other side treats him more kindly, that it doesn’t hold the pain for him that this one has.

You see, despite the fact that he was wanted and loved, that he was winsome, that he was the first-born, that he had nearly every advantage, he wasn’t immune from the pains of living. He certainly wasn’t the perfect child; he bullied and teased his brothers, he fought with me, he lived a fast and often careless life. But his other-than-honorable discharge from the Navy broke him and kept him from jobs that he badly wanted. His happy-go-lucky nature and good looks led him into a lot of unhealthy associations, and his sometimes casual relationship to the truth drove me – and, I’m sure, his dad – nearly crazy.

But he always loved his family and was always willing to help a stranger. I often told people that if they were broken down by the side of the road, the best thing that could happen to them

would be for Martin to drive by. He loved to help and was truly puzzled by those who wouldn’t just drop everything when he needed something. How one person could embody such contradictions has always perplexed me. But that’s the story of how he has lived.

So, sleep, my boy. I hope your dreams are fanciful and not frightening. I hope your poor, tired body is finding rest. I am blessed to be your mom, and I’m honored to walk this last winding road with you, holding your hand for as long as I can.



Mothers wait.
We wait for the child to be born.
We wait for the first words, the first steps.
We wait for the first day of school
We wait for the first date, the first relationship.
We wait for the return home from his first time taking the car.
We wait to hear about love, about a job, about school…
We wait for so many things, for so many reasons.

We should never have to wait for our child’s death.

Today I have spent what will be my last Christmas with my oldest child. I have watched as he struggled in the bathroom, needing my help to brush his teeth. I have put his slippers on his dear feet, swollen with edema. And I have held back tears as he looked at me with love and said, “You do so much for me.”

I ached at his confusion over the weighted blanket his nephew got for Christmas. When I explained that it would be a weight on him, which he hates, he insisted that it would somehow elevate him, relieving the pressure of the mattress on the bed where he spends most of his time.

It was a blessed relief to laugh with him when he unwrapped the socks from his brother, when his niece asked what they said, and he boldly proclaimed, “Fuck this shit!” When his humor shines through – as it does from time to time – it heals my heart a little bit.

I wait and worry and weep and wait some more.
I am not ready.
I’ll never be ready.
Dear Lord, help me be ready.

Discovering purpose

In 1983 when my youngest child was three years old, I decided it was time to go back to work. I had interviewed with a private school for a position that I particularly wanted, paid what I believed I was worth, and wasn’t too far from my home in Miami. I felt certain that I’d be hired, and waited for the phone call saying so.

I waited for what I felt was a reasonable time. Anxious for an answer, I called the decision-maker, only to be told she was on vacation and wouldn’t return till the following week. In the meantime, a church friend heard I was job-hunting, told me she needed a clerical person right away, and if I wanted it, the job was mine. Although I wasn’t at all familiar with her organization, I eagerly accepted and agreed to start the following Monday.

Over that weekend, I received a call from the school – and a job offer. I told her that I had already accepted another position, and despite her plea to come work for her instead – along with an apology for not calling sooner – I told her that I couldn’t go back on a promise.

And so I began to work for – and learn about – hospice. As is often the case in life, I hadn’t an inkling how important my decision to take one path instead of another would turn out to be.

I had taken a first step on a Path.

At this time, I lived in a small S. Florida town – a largely conservative farming and military community – attended a church where the membership was mostly conservative, and had abandoned the more liberal political and social views with which I was raised. I had left the Democratic Party and embraced the “family values” of Ronald Reagan and the Republican Party. After all, how could I, a married church-going woman and mother of three sons, be against family values? Wasn’t that what it was all about?

One of the central tenets of these “values” was a rejection of homosexuality, and a belief that it was a choice rather than an inborn trait. Because of my faith, I adopted a hate-the-sin-love-the-sinner attitude, including the belief that it was an abhorrent lifestyle that, with love and mental health treatment, could be changed. I was sure that I had struck the right balance.

Soon after I took the job with hospice – which at the time was primarily medical transcription and light office duties – filing, answering phones, learning about end-of-life treatment for cancer patients – we began to see our first patients who were infected with something called HTLV-III, or the “gay virus.” At first it was just a trickle of people – always men – one or two every few weeks, but soon we were seeing more and more of them. At the time, transmission was incompletely understood, but it soon became apparent that “gay sex” was the culprit – although our medical staff carefully avoided all bodily fluids, including urine and tears, just in case.

Over time, I was promoted and given new areas of responsibility, first as office manager, and later as the lead secretary and trainer for the patient care team. Our hospice was growing and our patient census was being filled more and more with those with the “gay virus” – now known as AIDS. Part of my job was now “intake” – taking calls from physicians and families who were referring men with this disease. I heard stories that reduced me to tears. Parents who refused to care for their sons with the disease because of the stigma attached to having a gay child; families refusing to allow long-time partners to visit a child who was dying; or kicking that partner out of a house or apartment that he had shared with their child; young men being left to die alone; fathers refusing to pay for medication that would postpone the inevitable – one even saying, “You aren’t going to live long enough to pay me back.” Even when some tiny part of me kind of understood, the larger, more compassionate me couldn’t fathom how a parent could treat his or her child like this. I was deeply conflicted.

Another step on a Path that was filled with curves,
hairpin turns and boulders

It was during this time that I was approached by the principals of this hospice and asked to take the position of Program Manager for their newly formed foundation. Since it would mean not only a generous raise and more responsibility, but an opportunity to provide resources otherwise unavailable to those who were dying, I eagerly accepted.

As the onsite manager, I had a small staff and several volunteers under my supervision. Much to my chagrin, almost our entire focus was on people with AIDS, and all of my volunteers were gay men. Although I kept my beliefs about homosexuality to myself, I silently, internally, judged them. Over time, as I came to know them better – especially Jon, Ed, and Gregg, who were a committed threesome – I tried to determine from their stories why each of them had “chosen” to be gay. I was never completely satisfied with these internally constructed rationales, and soon gave them up. They were fun and funny young men, and we enjoyed our time together. We attended fundraising events together, planned and executed community activities and parties, and they invited me to their beautiful home for a delicious dinner. It was during this dinner that Ed showed me two antique dolls that his grandmother had left to him. He told me that he didn’t know what to do with them, nor did he know why she had given them to him. I admired them, and told him of my love for dolls and that his might have some monetary value. Several weeks later, he confided that he needed money for his medication and had taken the dolls to a dealer to see what they were worth. Sadly, they had no real value, but Ed was able to find resources through a friend. Two days before Christmas, I found a beautifully wrapped gift on my desk, and the three of them standing in my office eagerly waiting for me to open it. Inside were the dolls. A gift beyond measure, and more than 30 years later, Edwina and Jonelle still hold a place of honor in my home.

My Path was growing straighter,
the hairpin turns fewer.

This is all preamble. This was all preparation. My heart was being changed and I didn’t fully recognize it until, in 1988, my oldest son – who was then 18 years old – tearfully, agonizingly, painfully, told me that he’s gay. To say I was stunned is an understatement. This beautiful young man who was sought after by nearly every girl who saw him – how could he be gay? Our family went to church every Sunday and some days during the week. He was involved in the youth group. His friends were primarily boys and girls in our faith community and in his church-sponsored school. He knew – dammit, he knew – that homosexuality was wrong! But I held him and cried with him and offered what comfort I could.

And then came the guilt. What had I done to cause this? There was a popular belief at the time that an overbearing mother was a strong factor in the “choice” to be gay. Yes, I’m strong-willed and come from a matriarchal family. Was I too strong? Was I really overbearing? Domineering? All questions for my psychologist, who rushed to assure me that I bore no “fault,” that medicine was beginning to accept that homosexuality is inborn, that it’s the way the brain is wired, that it’s not an aberration but a normal behavior, probably determined at conception. Prayer, spiritual direction, and counseling did their work. Instead of rejecting my son as I had heard so many parents do in my work with hospice, I embraced acceptance. Nothing about him had changed; he was exactly the same person he’d always been. The only thing different was that I had a new piece of information about my child. Yes, it was an important piece of information, but that’s really all it was. I began to find peace in my heart and in my mind. I felt sad for the times that he’d heard me speak out against homosexuality; how painful that must have been for him! How many times had he wanted to tell me about a crush – as his brothers had felt free to do – but held it back. Had his heart been broken and he was afraid to seek the comfort of his mother? It was a hard time of soul-searching.

I began to recognize my Path. I believed I saw where it was taking me, that it had clarity.

Then I began to be afraid. AIDS was still a real danger, and I cautioned him over and over again about its dangers and how to be safe. At one point I even told him, “Don’t you dare ever tell me you have AIDS! You know how to be safe; you know what to do. Do it.”

In 2006, after I’d moved to Oregon, he called me from Miami to tell me that his partner, a man he trusted, had infected him. He had full-blown AIDS. I cried. I asked how he could have let this happen when he knew to be safe. He apologized. He told me that he thought his partner was clean. He assured me that he was on medication, that it was no longer an automatic death sentence. He told me that he’d been afraid to make the phone call because I’d told him not to ever tell me he had it. I felt that I’d failed him once again. I told him I was sorry, and that I love him. I would always love him.

This Path of mine had hit a rockslide.
I couldn’t tell where it was leading me.

A year ago, in the fall of 2019, Martin was diagnosed with liver cancer. It’s unrelated to his AIDS diagnosis, and has resulted from “cryptogenic cirrhosis,” which means they don’t know why he has it. Initial treatment appeared successful, but this past July a CT scan and an MRI revealed that it’s back with a vengeance. In the space of only eight weeks, it’s grown to the outside of his liver, metastasized to the lining of his abdominal cavity, and there’s no treatment possible. Anything medicine can do would only cause more damage to his fragile liver. He’s in pain all the time – sometimes bearable, but often not. He sleeps about 20 hours a day. The cancer is pressing against his other organs, causing difficulty breathing, and extreme discomfort eating. His food intake has dropped to about one-fourth of what it was even a month ago because of the feeling of fullness after small meals. Despite this, he’s gained about 30 pounds since his diagnosis. Fluid is filling all of his body tissue rather than pooling in his abdominal cavity where it could be drained. His official prognosis is less than six months. Privately I’ve been told he may not make it till Christmas.

Three days ago, Martin signed on with hospice.

A simple decision made nearly forty years ago set me on a Path that now has a clear destination. I learned. I grew. I accepted. I can look back now and see it clearly from where I started. The hairpin turns, the curves, the boulders and rockslides – all are gone. I don’t look forward to see where it will end. Instead, I live each day, I welcome each day. I treasure each day.

This has been, is, will be, my Path.
Unknown, unexpected but filled with growth and lessons.

I call my Path “Love.”